From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Kaye offers a masterful and eloquent study of the man he reestablishes as the key figure in the American Revolution and the radical politics that followed it. Focusing on close readings of Paine's major writings, Kaye devotes the first half of the book to Paine's role in the seething fervor for American liberty and independence and his influence on the French Revolution. In Common Sense (1763), which sold 150,000 copies in just a few months, Paine advocated self-government and democracy in the colonies, accused the British of corruption and tyranny, and urged "Americans" to rebel. He championed representative democracy and argued that government should act for the public good. Paine's contributions were not limited to his own time; Kaye traces Paine's influence on American rebels and reformers from William Lloyd Garrison and Elizabeth Cady Stanton to Emma Goldman and Eugene Debs in the second half of his book. In 1980, Ronald Reagan quoted him—"We have it in our power to begin the world over again"—in his acceptance speech before the Republican National Convention. As historian Kaye (The American Radical) points out, Paine—"the greatest radical of a radical age"—would have been surprised to learn that conservatives, whose values he opposed, had used his words in their cause. 25 illus. not seen by PW. (Aug.)
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Facing a saturated market for biographies of Thomas Paine, historian Kaye opts to chronicle the effect of his legacy. Reading like a roll call of populists, reformers, and radicals, Kaye's presentation aims to repossess Paine from conservatives who "do not--and truly cannot--embrace him and his arguments." Kaye's audience may measure the assertion against the preliminary passages of this work, which outline Paine's life and paraphrase his revolutionary classics (Common Sense, The American Crisis, and The Age of Reason). Underscoring Paine's championing of exceptionalism, the idea of America's uniqueness in world history (which has conservative roots in Puritanism as well as in the radicalism espoused by Paine and preferred by Kaye), the author recounts Paine revivals that have coincided with reform movements. For a universalistic reach beyond a movement's immediate aims, Paine has been ready-made, and Kaye summarizes how Paine has inspired abolitionists, suffragettes, workingmen, socialists of the Progressive and New Deal eras, and historians. Gilbert Taylor
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